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Nocturn: The Prisma Collection

Nocturn: The Prisma Collection

Nocturn Prisma ad

Over the past year I have been posting my favourite shots of my cities at night; Chennai, Melbourne, Sydney and finally Lahore. I’m quite proud of how the pictures turned out – I captured light trails, curious customs and spectacular scenes after sunset to show a side of these places that people often miss.

But what’s better than these photographs is turning them into works of art by running them through the Prisma app. Prisma is a phone application that allows you to turn regular photographs into artworks in the style of Van Gogh, Picasso and many more.

See the best of Chennai, Melbourne, Sydney and Lahore after dark, and as works of art, with the Nocturn: The Prisma Collection.

Pak Traveller banners final

Have you used the Prisma app before? What do you think of it? Comment below!

4 great day trips from Chennai

4 great day trips from Chennai

Chennai is not known for being a tourist hub – various writers have described it as “hot as hell” or an “overgrown village”. However those in the know are aware of a couple of hot spots around Chennai that make it easy to escape the city – even if just for a day!

Here, in no particular order, are my four favourite day trips from Chennai!

1. Mahabalipuram – 1.5 hours from Chennai Central

Mahabalipuram beach near the Radisson Blu

Mahabalipuram beach near the Radisson Blu

Mahabalipuram is no Angkor Wat – instead, just a handful of temples lie in ruin by the beachside. They are certainly worth a visit however, and the small township has enough souvenir shops to hold one’s interest, and eateries dish up a bunch of Tamil specialties. Meanwhile the Radisson Blu has a huge pool, a pleasant cafe, and a health spa to while away the hours.

2. Sriperumbedur – 1.5 hours from Chennai Central

Rajiv Gandhi Memorial, Sriperumbedur

Rajiv Gandhi Memorial, Sriperumbedur

Sriperumbedur is known as the place where former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991. A solemn memorial garden now exists on the site, with stone inlay retracing the politician’s final steps. A few temples exist nearby, but the main point of interest is the garden where history was made that fateful night.

3. Kanchipuram – 2 hours from Chennai Central

Shopping for Kanchipuram silk saris

Shopping for Kanchipuram silk saris

Shopping time! Get your rupees at the ready, because it’s time to buy up big at this centre for silken saris! Shopping aside, Kanchipuram boasts a glut of important temples, including Ekambareswarar temple, whose gateway tower is one of the tallest in India, at 59 metres.

4. Pondicherry – 3 hours from Chennai Central

Backstreets of Pondicherry

Backstreets of Pondicherry

It’s a long day trip, but if you’re in the mood, there’s nothing quite like Pondicherry. Officially called Puducherry, but often just referred to as “Pondy”, this former French enclave still hums to a slightly different beat to the rest of India. Streets are named “Rue”, architecture is a throwback to colonial yesteryear, European cuisine is available and the waterfront is sunny and pleasant (if not quite the Côte d’Azur). Don’t forget to visit the Aurobindo Ashram as well as Auroville’s utopian social project – it’s unusual, but undeniably Pondy.

What is your favourite getaway from Chennai? Comment below!

With Andy’s World Travels: Why Chennai?

Why Chennai?

Chennai was my home for 18 months from 2011 to 2012, and I still have a major soft spot for it. In fact, it’s still one of the cities that I consider home, and I was so glad to return last year to visit it again, if only for a short time.

Marina Beach, Chennai

Marina Beach, Chennai

A lot of people don’t really understand what it is about Chennai – what draws me back there; in fact, lots of people don’t really understand the appeal at all. Over the weekend an acquaintance of mine was talking about cities in India, and when I mentioned Chennai, I was met with a slightly disparaging “well, I don’t really think of Chennai as a city”.

Mylapore, Chennai

So what is to love about this hot, steamy, overgrown village far-flung from mainstream “India”, and out on the edge of the Bay of Bengal? Andrew Boland from Andy’s World Journeys invited me to piece together something about Chennai, a city that he (and a fair many other travellers to India) had never set foot in. As a result, I decided to answer the question that countless north Indians and hoardes of tourists have also asked me; Why Chennai? Click here to read my answer.

Chennai Marina Beach

Andrew is a travel blogger from Melbourne who works in disability and also does a bit of amateur film-making. He’s been to 70 countries so far, his first overseas trip was in 1999, and he’s travelled on average every two years since then, sometimes on long trips, sometimes on shorter ones. I also interviewed Andy in my UrbanLegends series last year, in which he discussed one of his favourite cities, Almaty in Kazakhstan.

 

Nocturn: Chennai

Nocturn: Chennai

Chennai nocturn ad

 

Some of the most amazing and intriguing sights in our cities are only seen at night, when a lot of us are tucked away in bed, fast asleep. Nocturn is a new night photography series on UrbanDuniya, shining the light on the cities we call home, long after most people have fallen asleep.

We start today with Chennai, the largest city in southern India and the home of the Tamil-speaking world.

See Chennai, while you were sleeping.

What do you love about your city after dark?

Up North; a taste of posh Punjabi in Chennai

Up North

Atop the Raintree Hotel on Chennai’s Anna Salai is a really special place to enjoy some Punjabi khana.

Up North kitchen

I first went to Up North in 2011 and immediately fell in love with the surroundings. It was a hot monsoonal night, and the city seemed to hum beneath us as we tucked into some delicious, quality food.

Up North restaurant

Since then I have returned several times, most notably with my parents during the Diwali of 2012 as fireworks exploded all around us. I visited a few months ago and the service and food hadn’t changed – it was still top notch.

Pappad and chutney

All meals begin with spicy pappad with a variety of chutneys, which for me were then followed by my favourite entree at the restaurant, Multani tikkey paneer kebabs.

Paneer tikka kebab

I love Punjabi-style fish, and so the main was a foregone conclusion; Patialashahi Machchi, fish in tangy, semi-sweet tomato gravy.

Patialashahi Machchi

And it didn’t disappoint. In addition to the delicious, lip-smacking food options, the service is phenomenal and the presentation impressive. Arrowhead-shaped plates are swapped, spun and replaced before me, creating a fascinating tapestry of courses.

Up north spread

Desserts are also important, and Up North does them well – gulab jamun is a specialty (and a favourite of mine), but their kulfi is really special too – served iceberg-style in a vast bath of creamy goodness.

(Image: Sarah Siraj, Zomato)

(Image: Sarah Siraj, Zomato)

Up North is one of my favourite places to eat out in Chennai, and the service, food and setting all justify the not-so-cheap prices. I’m already dreaming of my next visit to Up North…

Up North

Details

Food: 9/10

Ambience: 10/10

Service: 9/10

Cost: Mains Rs. 500 – Rs. 800

The Raintree, 636 Anna Salai, Teynampet, Chennai

(044) 30853633

www.raintreehotels.com/the-raintree-annasalai/dining

Daily: 7pm – 11:30m

Chennai’s Italia at The Park Pod is a bit fancy

Italia at The Park Pod

There are lots of places to get Italian food in Chennai, but not all of them are as classy as Italia at The Park Pod in Nungambakkam.

Italia at The Park Pod

Italia at The Park Pod

I visited a while ago and was very impressed by the overall decor and level of service – all top class. The elevated, enclosed deck overlooks the small but smart courtyard.

Pane platter at Italia at The Park Pod

Pane platter at Italia at The Park Pod

The food could best be described as ‘nouveau Italian’. I’m served a platter of breads and dips to begin, a small smorgasbord of Italian pane in a minimalist, angular design.

My bruschetta arrives as the perfectly balanced garlic-tomato-savoury morsels that they should be, with the most subtle hint of olive oil.

Bruschetta at Italia at The Park Pod

Bruschetta at Italia at The Park Pod

The main, tagliolini al pesto, is the creamy, savoury highlight. The vegetarian pasta is hinted with pistachio in the pesto, and the pasta is al dente; my only complaint is that by now I’m well and truly full, and can barely finish the rich deliciousness.

Tagliolini al Pesto at Italia

Tagliolini al Pesto at Italia

Italia at The Park Pod offers something a little different; the decor, the service, the clever menu tweaks and the overall level of exclusivity makes it just a little bit special.

 

Details

Food: 8/10

Ambience: 9/10

Service: 8/10

Cost: Mains Rs. 500 – 800

23/13, Khader Nawaz Khan Road, Nungambakkam High Road, Chennai

(044) 4295 5580

www.theparkhotels.com/chennai/the-park-chennai-pod/signore-italiano

Hours: 12noon – 11pm daily

India marks its 68th birthday

India today is celebrating its 68th year of independence, with processions and festivities across the nation.

Security has been tightened at key sites across the nation, including at Delhi’s Red Fort where prime minister Narendra Modi is due to hoist the national flag and deliver a speech.

The sun sets over the Gandhi statue at Chennai's Marina Beach on Independence Day a few years ago

The sun sets over the Gandhi statue at Chennai’s Marina Beach on Independence Day a few years ago

In Chennai, a special Independence Day function is due to be held at the Madras High Court, while thousands are expected to throng Chennai’s Marina Beach to celebrate.

New Delhi's India Gate will be one of countless venues for celebration today

New Delhi’s India Gate will be one of countless venues for celebration today

India’s independence was achieved on 15th August 1947 after a long and sometimes violent struggle against colonial Britain. Independent India’s birth was marred however by bloody episodes of civil strife relating to the partition of the subcontinent.

Pakistan marked its Independence Day yesterday.

Videos: Hari and Mazhar ♥ Chennai!

Hari Chennai

Often serendipity plays a role in writing work. I was recently back in Chennai and eating at the pizza cafe near where I used to live. Wondering who I could interview for the Chennai video, I went out on a limb and asked the steward at The Pasta Bar Veneto if he would be interested. I hit the jackpot – not only was Hari Ram willing, but he is a friendly Chennaiker brimming with civic and cultural pride, perfect for the role. His drinks and pasta are awesome too!!

To watch Hari on YouTube, click here, or for Vimeo, click here.

Mazhar chennai

Mazhar Ahamed is the type of person who makes you want to love a place. Fun loving and easy-going, my friend since 2012 has always loved Chennai, and says there’s no place like it in the world. His typically laid-back attitude to life, but serious honesty in friendships seems to be a hallmark of Chennaikers so Mazhar was the perfect choice. Additionally, we got to spend the whole day filming, catching up and hanging out – just like back in 2012!

To watch Mazhar on YouTube, click here, or for Vimeo, click here.

¡Una Mas! Chennai’s latest Tex-Mex offering

¡Una Mas!

¡Una Mas!, whose name in English translates as “One More!”, is an eatery in the western part of Nungambakkam offering a Taco Bell-style Mexican experience. It is part of an American chain, and the Chennai restaurant is its first Indian outing.

¡Una Mas!

¡Una Mas!

I really like Mexican food, and I also really like Tex Mex. ¡Una Mas! has the standard range of tacos, burritos and quesadillas with an interesting balance of Tex-Mex (like crunchy tacos) along with more authentic Mexican burritos. The restaurant is decked out in Tex-Mex, fast food style; fun and friendly.

Crispy chicken taco at ¡Una Mas!

Crispy chicken taco at ¡Una Mas!

There are some interesting items, not so much in their selection, but more in their rendering. Nachos comes out covered in corn and other veggies, rather than the usual cheese-slathered snack we’re used to. And a vegetarian burrito reminds us that no matter how Mexican the eatery tries to be, we’re in southern India.

India meets Mexico - a vegetarian burrito at ¡Una Mas!

India meets Mexico – a vegetarian burrito at ¡Una Mas!

The tacos are tasty as expected, but with a distinct Indian vibe; something about the salad and the taste of the meat reminds us that this is still an Indian-owned eatery, not as authentic as perhaps we had hoped.

¡Una Mas!'s nachos

¡Una Mas!’s nachos; tasty, but a rather interesting take on a classic!

But the churros at the end of the meal is the show stopper. I’m not even a huge fan of churros, but the crunchy-outside, soft-inside, warm chocolatey goodness is stealing my attention from the rest of the meal!!

Churros at ¡Una Mas!

Churros at ¡Una Mas!

On balance, ¡Una Mas! Is a great place to hang out and grab a quick snack with friends, but if it’s authentic Mexican comfort food you’re after, you might be a bit disappointed.

 

Details

Food: 7/10

Ambience: 6/10

Service: 7/10

Cost: Mains Rs. 300 – 700

151 Kodambakkam High Road, Nungambakkam

(044) 4201 4233

www.unamas.in

Hours: 11am – 11pm daily

Springhaven: a home away from home in Chennai

Springhaven Chennai

On my recent trip to Chennai, I may have discovered one of the best accommodation deals in the city. I had originally booked through AirBnB, the website that allows property owners to rent out rooms or entire homes as holiday accommodation.

Springhaven's promotional shot; the trees have grown quite a bit since this was taken!

Springhaven’s promotional shot; the trees have grown quite a bit since this was taken!

Springhaven has two properties; one in the southern Chennai district of Adyar, and another in the central district of Balaji Nagar (where I stayed).

The hosts are brothers Siddharth and Srikanth and their family, who do their very best to make guests feel right at home. I arrived late but was greeted by Srikanth and his wife, who offered me food, drinks and a wifi password – just what I needed after a long flight!

The Balaji Nagar building is a three-storey construction, with guest accommodation on the first and second floors. My first-floor room opened directly on to a communal dining and lounge area, but of course locked from the inside, so it was effectively like a private hotel room.

Springhaven's communal lounge

Springhaven’s communal lounge

The room was spacious but basic when compared with luxury hotel rooms, but that’s not a fair comparison, because it was more like a well-appointed bedroom in a typical upper-middle class Chennai home. There was air-conditioning, satellite television and two very comfy single beds. I also had an attached ensuite – no sharing here!

This is almost exactly what my room was like - I think this might have been the one next door.

This is almost exactly what my room was like – I think this might have been the one next door. (Photo: Springhaven)

However I will perhaps best remember the stay for the kind hospitality shown by the hosts. A full breakfast is included each morning, perfectly prepared by the resident cooks, and the choice of breakfast was fairly varied; ‘Western-style’ (omelette with toast and jam) or ‘Indian-style’ (a range of delights including, but not limited to, dosa, idlys and freshly brewed local coffee.

Dosa for breakfast at Springhaven

Dosa for breakfast at Springhaven

Excellent vegetarian meals were also available at other times of the day – I enjoyed dhal, okra, rice and chapati one night – and there was always tea, coffee or lassi available. Filtered, safe-to-drink water is provided at no cost, and was one of the small touches that made Springhaven a home away from home.

Dinner at Springhaven

Dinner at Springhaven

Siddharth and Srikanth and their family are a wealth of knowledge about Chennai and the local region, and are very very obliging. They’re chatty, friendly, easy to get along with, and both interesting and interested. It’s like staying with friends – and I’m already planning my return trip.

This was my first experience booking through AirBnB, and I was a bit worried that I would be stuck in a guesthouse where I was virtually a prisoner of my overprotective host. To this end, and most importantly, Siddharth and Srikanth are not overbearing, making Springhaven a place where you can really relax and feel at home. Which, says Srikanth, is exactly the concept they are aiming for.

Spring haven's common chillout area. Much of the artwork around the house was painted by Siddharth and Srikanth's mum!

Spring haven’s common chillout area. Much of the artwork around the house was painted by Siddharth and Srikanth’s mum!

Details

Springhaven Balaji Nagar

No. 23 Balaji Nagar 2nd Street

Royapettah, Chennai

Prices vary depending on booking method; through AirBnB in early 2015 I paid approximately US$40/night including breakfast and unlimited wifi access.

+91 99620 89414